The Conference of Roman Catholic Cathedral Musicians (CRCCM) met in London, England, for its 41st annual gathering.  As is customary, the conference gathers in Europe every ten years.  This 2024 gathering was planned and coordinated by a designated committee of CRCCM members, the CRCCM Steering Committee, and Peter’s Way Tours, Inc.

Tuesday, January 15

On Tuesday morning, conference participants arrived in London via independent itineraries.  Assembling at Heathrow Airport, they enjoyed a bus tour of London en route to the conference hotel in the West End district of Bloomsbury.  That evening, conference participants were bussed to Westminster Abbey for Choral Evensong at 5 p.m., sung in the Quire by the Abbey Choir under the direction of Organist and Master of the Choristers, Andrew Nethsingha.  Peter Holder, who is Sub Organist at the Abbey, played the organ for Evensong.  Choral repertoire included “This True and Holy Light” by William Harris; Responses by William Smith; Magnificat and Nunc dimittis canticles (“in A”) by Charles Villiers Stanford; and Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks by Dame Gillian Weir.  “The Choir of Westminster Abbey is renowned worldwide as one of the finest choirs of its type.  Comprising up to thirty boys (all of whom attend the Abbey’s unique Choir School) and twelve professional adult singers, known as Lay Vicars, its wide-ranging performing activities are rooted in centuries-old tradition and its repertoire ranges from plainsong and Tudor polyphony to twentieth-century masterpieces and new commissions.”

Westminster Abbey, officially titled the “Collegiate Church of Saint Peter, Westminster”, remains one of the most prominent churches in England, signified by the title of “minster” given to such churches.  The original edifice was constructed as a Benedictine monastery, founded in 960 A.D.  Originally under the patronage of King Edward and Saint Dunstan, this Abbey was later re-endowed, enlarged, and dedicated to Saint Peter the Apostle by King Edward (St. Edward the Confessor), who had established his royal palace nearby along the River Thames.  The coronation of William the Conqueror took place in the church, and all subsequent coronations have been celebrated in Westminster Abbey (save two monarchs who were never crowned).  Construction of the current gothic edifice began in the middle of the 13th century by King Henry III, and the church was consecrated in 1269.  The Coronation Chair is still present and visible in the Abbey.

After Evensong, conference participants returned to the hotel and met in the conference room for the opening session and only business meeting of the week.  Brian Luckner, Chair of the CRCCM Steering Committee, read the CRCCM Statement of Purpose, conference participants introduced themselves, and the CRCCM necrology was read aloud.  Marc Cerisier delivered a brief Treasury report, and Phil Bordeleau discussed the nomination and election process for new members of the Steering Committee.

Following the meeting, conference participants enjoyed dinner on their own.

Wednesday, January 16

On Wednesday morning, conference participants returned to Westminster Abbey for a meeting with Organist and Master of the Choristers, Andrew Nethsingha.  In his talk, he expounded upon his previous experience in several other cathedrals, including Wells Cathedral, Truro Cathedral, and Gloucester Cathedral, as well as his tenure at Saint John’s College, Cambridge.  He described that this diversity of experience has broadened his perspectives when approaching the same revered Anglican choral tradition, practiced in vastly different contexts.  For example, he discussed the differing ensemble dynamics of working with different “back rows” (regular Choral Scolars at St. John’s vs. professional Lay Vicars and long list of deputies at the Abbey); and the implications of widely ranging rehearsal times (at Saint John’s, he enjoyed extensive rehearsal time, whereas at the Abbey, he admitted having all but a four-measure treble solo line go unrehearsed at the Abbey prior to Tuesday’s Evensong).  Nethsingha also described fondly and with great humility the prominence of the Abbey in the musical life of England.  He began his tenure in 2023, which is 400 years after Orlando Gibbons began his own tenure.  Last month, as the Abbey Choir lined up to enter the nave for their performance of Messiah, they processed by only a few feet past the place where Handel is buried.  Nethsingha also described the moment of inspiration when—in the famous grand pause in the final measures of the Hallelujah Chorus—he heard the Abbey’s acoustics and realized how intimately well Handel himself knew the building.

Nethsingha described the nature of the Abbey Choir School in great detail.  There are 30 boys in the Choir School, the number of which his predecessor, James O’Donnell, had reduced from 36 (with good reasons, one of which being the limited space in the Quire).  Boarding is required for choristers, who are the only students enrolled in the school.  The Abbey maintains 12 Lay Vicars, which include some of the best singers in the country.  While they are permitted to be away from choral services upwards of 40% of the time, many of the Lay Vicars are professional singers with groups such as the Tallis Scholars or The Sixteen, and it is of tremendous benefit to the Abbey Choir to include singers with such expertise in their ensemble.  Nethsingha is one of four organists at the Abbey; Peter Holder is Sub Organist; Matthew Jorycz is Assistant Organist; and Caroline Craig is Organ Scholar (until she assumes her new role as Assistant Organist at Wells Cathedral, which Nethsingha held some 30 year ago).

The boy choristers rehearse for one hour each morning; 30min rehearsal in the afternoon, 20min with the full choir, followed by Evensong.  There are opportunities for adult women to sing in the Abbey Choir, particularly when there are special services without the presence of the Sovereign, so that the choristers are not absented from parts of their school day.  Nethsingha has introduced opportunities for adult women to sing in the back row: as alto vacancies come up among the Lay Vicars, men and women alike will be welcome to apply.  He is also developing a chorister program for girls at Saint Margaret’s Church, which is located a short distance from the Abbey and serves as the Church of the House of Parliament.  This program welcomes girls 12-17 years of age, and with each year there is an increasing number of singing opportunities.

Nethsingha described his experience of preparing music for the coronation of King Charles III, including the difficulties of navigating musical commissions, but also the pleasure of having the opportunity to discuss musical issues then-Prince Charles himself.  Nethsingha was able to draw on extensive notes left by one of his predecessors, Sir John Frederick Bridge, who oversaw the music for the coronations of 1902 and 1911.  Bridge wrote down his thorough processes preparing coronation music, since there were not extensive notes from the coronation of Queen Victoria in the 1830s.  In addition to the liturgical architecture of the coronation service, Bridge’s notes regarding the specific timings of the Vivats in Parry’s anthem I was glad informed how Nethsingha approached his negotiations with composers regarding their commissions.

Following his overview of the Abbey music program, Nethsingha generously welcomed and answered questions from conference participants.  As part of his fielding of questions, Nethsingha shared a notable aspect of his leadership style, which is to foster a supportive and welcoming work environment, absorbing in himself as much as possible any anxiety from the rehearsal process.  He stated that his initial response to a subpar musical performance is to presume he himself did not adequately prepare the ensemble.

Conference participants proceeded to Westminster Cathedral for a presentation given by Master of Music, Simon Johnson.  Johnson shared an illuminating history of Westminster Cathedral and the Cathedral Choir.

At the turn of the 20th century, then-Archbishop Cardinal Herbert Vaughn attempted to recreate the medieval English tradition of a monastic foundation within the Cathedral.  The original vision was that the entirety of the Divine Office would be sung by a community of Benedictine monks, who would be responsible for the liturgical life of the Cathedral.  To this end, Cardinal Vaughn had contacted the monks of Solesmes Abbey in France, who were and are known for their scholarship and performance of Gregorian chant.  As the 19th century became a time of rebirth of Catholicism in England, the prevailing determination was to cultivate domestic support from among English Benedictine communities.  As a result, the discussions with Solesmes drew to a close, and plans for the current nature of the Cathedral Choir took shape.  The monastic quality of the music-making remains evident in the design of the Cathedral, in that the Choir [area] the Cathedral building is accessible via two doors on either side of the apse.  The regular employment of Gregorian chant is a significant element of the Cathedral’s repertoire, and the continued use of the Graduale Romanum is a nod to the influence of Solesmes, France.

The Catholic Emancipation Act in England was signed only in 1829, so the practical nature of Catholicism—especially in terms of mainstream parochial liturgies—was nascent.  Johnson indicated that, according to contemporary accounts, the quality of musical repertoire and performance was lacking, quoting the early-twentieth century businessman Alfred Booth: “That the Catholic Church has sunk so deep into the musical mire is not the fault of the Catholic people; they have to take what is given to them.  They have never heard of the treasures bequeathed to them by the great ones of the past.”

In 1901, Cardinal Vaughan—keenly aware of the unique opportunity to develop a great choral foundation—recruited Richard Terry to be the first choirmaster of Westminster Cathedral’s Choir.  The vision of Westminster Cathedral Choir can be summed by a quote from Terry late in life: “There is no reason why people should put up with second-rate music, because it is performed in a first-rate manner.”  Such a vision would be confirmed in 1903, when Pope Pius X promulgated his motto proprio “Tra le sollecitudini”, in which he called for the foundation of Choir Schools and the restoration of Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony to their rightful places in the liturgy.

The Westminster Cathedral Choir School today reports an enrollment of roughly 270 boys, 25 of whom sing in the Cathedral Choir.  During term time, the Choir—employing a rotation of liturgies sung by the full Choir, the lay clerks alone, or the boys alone—provides the choral music for 12 weekly choral services.  Westminster Cathedral offers singing opportunities for girls, who may sing once per week at a Saturday liturgy.  However, Johnson lamented the present inability to offer equal singing opportunities to girls, citing the School’s nature as a boarding school for boys, as well as the Cathedral’s tight finances.  The boys rehearse twice per day, before and after school, and they are required to engage in applied instrumental study beyond singing (piano and some other orchestral instrument, preferably string).

Beyond Gregorian chant, the choral music of the English Renaissance figures prominently in the Choir’s repertoire, and the music of William Byrd is especially important.  The first liturgy sung by the newly founded Choir (in the gymnasium prior to the completion of the Cathedral church) featured Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices, and the Choir recently completed a project of singing the polyphonic proper antiphons of Byrd’s Gradualia.

Simon Johnson was appointed Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral in September 2021, and prior to this he served as Organist and Assistant Director of Music at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, for thirteen years.

Conference participants enjoyed the remainder of the day free to explore London.

Thursday, January 18

On Thursday morning, conference participants were bussed to Ely Cathedral.  Following guided tours of the Cathedral, they were greeted by Director of Music, Edmund Aldhouse, who offered a thorough overview of the Cathedral’s music program.

The Cathedral consists of boy and girl choristers and lay clerks, providing music for eight choral services weekly (Choral Evensong each day of the week, and Sunday morning Eucharist).  The boys and girls rehearse and sing separately; the girls sing Evensong on Mondays and Wednesdays; the boys sing Evensong on Tuesdays and Thursdays; the four weekend services from Friday to Sunday are scheduled with the boys and girls in rotation.  Six lay clerks form the back row of the choir for six of the eight weekly services, allowing for treble-only repertoire for Tuesday and Wednesday Evensong services.

The setup described above represents an evolution of the Ely music program over the past twenty years.  Previously, the choir consisted of 20 boys and 6 lay clerks with an additional 6 adults supplementing on the weekends.  The Cathedral began to offer singing opportunities for girls in 2006, gradually increasing the work load until the present day when the boys’ and girls’ choirs each share half of the singing responsibilities.

The choristers are enrolled in the neighboring King’s Ely School, which offers a co-educational school setting for elementary to high school-equivalent students.  The school also maintains a variety of boarding arrangements for their students, from day schooling, to partial boarding, to full boarding.  At present, the age of the boy choristers is from 7-13, while the girls are older (12-17); for a variety of reasons, including increased extracurricular conflicts and mandatory public examinations, the age range of the girl choristers will be gradually reduced to match the boys.

The choristers rehearse twice daily, and they develop musicianship and reading skills that enable them to perform at a very high level.  Aldhouse described that the choristers are capable of starting a new service setting or anthem early in the week and singing it in Evensong three days later.  This level of musicianship notwithstanding, he also made a point to say that the choristers are well-integrated into the life of the school, participating in a normal school day schedule between their rehearsals.

Ely Cathedral also offers choral opportunities beyond the Cathedral Choir.  The Cathedral Children’s Choir (called the “Imps”) numbers approximately 35 children who are not enrolled in King’s Ely.  The Cathedral Octagon Singers (named for the iconic octagonal tower of Ely Cathedral) is a volunteer mixed adult choir.  Finally, the Cathedral welcomes visiting choirs to participated in choral residencies, and many of such choirs come from episcopal churches in the United States.

Aldhouse described the tremendous joy he experiences at the privilege to work with the Cathedral choristers, “training them up” in the revered English choral tradition.  He mentioned that not all of the choristers proceed into a career in music, and his tenure at Ely has been long enough that he is able to reconnect with former choristers in their various university studies and career paths.  Aldhouse also described the increasingly secular culture taking root in England, which makes recruitment of choristers ever more challenging.  He remarked, “as good as your current set of choristers are, you are only ever two years away from not have any at all, if you don’t keep working at [recruitment].”

The Ely Cathedral organ dates from 1831, originally built by Elliot and Hill.  In the 1850s, the organ was relocated from its placement on a stone rood screen into a chamber in the north triforium.  This was accomplished in order to provide an unobstructed view through the interior length of the Cathedral.  In 1908, the organ was renovated by Harrison & Harrison, and after several subsequent renovations, the organ today closely resembles the 1908 work of Harrison and Harrison.

Edmund Aldhouse was appointed Director of Music at Ely Cathedral in 2019, following service as Assistant Director of Music there from 2013-2019.

Following their visit to Ely Cathedral, conference participants were bussed to Cambridge for a guided tour of the university and a presentation by Christopher Gray, Director of Music at Saint John’s College.

Gray was appointed Director of Music in April 2023.  In his talk to conference participants, he described his first few months at Saint John’s and offered comparisons and contrasts with his work at Truro Cathedral, where he was Assistant Director of Music from 2000-2008 and Director of Music from 2008-2023.  Specifically, Gray said it still feels odd to not have the Choir in session for Christmas and Easter holidays.  While Cambridge University operates in 8-week terms, both King’s College and Saint John’s College continue to work with their choirs after the end of each term.  Annual projects for the Choir of Saint John’s include the recording of one album, a live radio broadcast during Michelmas term, and touring.  Gray described ebbs and flows in the Choir’s history, and the Choir experienced a notable resurgence in the 1950s under the admirable direction of George Guest.

Recruitment of choristers is also a primary concern for the College.  Gray cited a successful endeavor called Cushion Concerts, which he translated to Saint John’s College from Truro Cathedral.  In this event, musical performances are presented by children for children, and prospective choristers are invited to bring cushions to sit in the front of the nave near the performing choristers.  

Saint John’s College began welcoming girl choristers a year and a half ago, under then-Director of Music, Andrew Nethsingha.  At Saint John’s College, the boys and girls sing together, and Gray shared his perspectives on the co-educational Choir environment.  He mentioned reported blind hearings at Salisbury Cathedral—the first Cathedral in the country to form a girl choir—in which the listeners were unable to distinguish between the boys and the girls; he shared knowledge of scientific studies showing no physiological differences between the voices of boys and girls; and he acknowledged sociological studies demonstrating the cultural perception that singing is for girls.

Regarding the aural characters of the Choir, Gray noted relatively more flexible tone, including the use of vibrato, greater range of vocal colors, vibrancy, and emotive singing that conveys textual affect.  He also shared his interest in commissioning music that “draws out resonance from biblical stories” for present-day application.  This, he says, reflects an intentional service the Choir provides to the wider University community.

Following Gray’s presentation, conference participants proceeded to King’s College for evening Eucharist, sung by the Choir.  Choral repertoire included proper antiphons from the Graduale Romanum, the motet O magnum mysterium, and parts of the imitation Mass (Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei) by Tomás Luis de Victoria.  The Choir of King’s College is under the direction of Daniel Hyde, King’s College Director of Music.

Immediately following the Eucharist at the Chapel of King’s College, conference participants proceeded back to Saint John’s College for Choral Evensong in the Chapel.  Choral repertoire included Responses by William Smith; The Short Service canticles by Thomas Tallis; and Vox in Rama by George Kirbye.

Conference participants enjoyed dinner in Cambridge and were bussed back to London.

Friday, January 19

On Friday morning, conference participants were bussed to Canterbury Cathedral for guided tours of the Cathedral and for a brief presentation by Assistant Director of Music, Jamie Rogers.  In his talk, Rogers primarily described the restoration of the Cathedral organ, accomplished 18 years prior by Harrison and Harrison, overseen by then-Director of Music, David Flood.  Rogers articulated that the organ was conceived for the Sanctuary and the Quire; as such, it is not present in the nave.  Aside from a small linked division in the nave, a suitable organ in that area of the Cathedral is left for a future project.

The Canterbury Cathedral Choir consists of 12 lay clerks, 20 boys, 21 girls, and 4 choral scholars.  The program offers singing opportunities for day pupils and boarders alike.  In an effort to diversity (musically) the worship experience of the Cathedral, the Cathedral has introduced additional services beyond the traditional choral services.  This approach allows for the traditional services to continue in the established Anglican choral tradition.  Additional efforts are made to diversify the list of composers, whose music is sung by the Cathedral Choir.

Canterbury Cathedral is well-known as the center and headquarters of the Anglican Communion and remains today a major pilgrimage site.  It is the oldest Cathedral in the United Kingdom, and various portions of the edifice represent historical architectural principles proper to the era of their construction.  The Cathedral is home to a shrine to Saint Thomas Becket.  Becket served as Lord Chancellor of England from 1155 to 1162 and Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his death in 1170.  Becket engaged in a religious and political feud with King Henry II and was assassinated in 1170.  Becket was canonized by Pope Alexander III in 1173.

After the tour and presentation, conference participants enjoyed lunch on their own in Canterbury and were bussed back to London.

Upon return to London, conference participants visited the Bompton Oratory and were greeted for a presentation by Professor Patrick Russell, Oratory Director of Music.  Russell described various aspects of the Oratory’s founding and history, as well as the nature of the music program.  The London Oratory was founded in 1849 by Fr. Frederick Faber, a convert to Catholicism and a noted hymn writer.  The Congregation of the Oratory is under the patronage of Saint Philip Neri, known as the 2nd apostle to Rome.  Under this inspiration, Oratories are founded as intentional ministries to urban settings, and the London Oratory has served as a church “for the museums” as the City of London expanded to the West.  The Oratory Church, consecrated in 1884, today remains the 4th largest Church in London, after Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, and Saint Paul’s Cathedral.  Of the original temporary church, some fittings remain, including the sanctuary floor, the altar rails, and the pipe organ.

The Brompton Oratory currently consists of ten priests in community, and their liturgical traditions are distinctly Roman, highlighted by the Palazzo-style house and the Roman-style Church.  They exhibit a sense of obedience to Roman liturgy, which informs their celebrations.  Each weekend, eight Masses are offered at the Oratory: one said Mass in the Extraordinary Form; one solemn Mass in the Ordinary Form; and the remaining Masses are in English in the Ordinary Form.  One weekly Vespers is offered in Latin.  Four Masses are offered daily: two in English in the Ordinary Form; one in Latin in the Ordinary Form; and one in the Extraordinary Form.  

Four of the weekend services are sung by three different choirs: Saturday Vigil Mass sung by the Schola Cantorum; Sunday 10 a.m. Mass sung by the Junior Choir of Boys and Girls; Sunday 11 a.m. Mass and Vespers sung by the Professional Choir of Adults (14 mixed voices).  Choral music is offered all 52 Sunday of the year, plus Feasts and Solemnities.  Russell articulated that the musical sensibilities of the Oratory are conservative, and since the 1930s, the Oratory has been known as a “powerhouse of Renaissance polyphony.”  The musical repertoire of the Oratory consists mostly of Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony (Russell’s predecessor produced many performing editions for Chester Music and in-house editions of Gregorian chants); some Viennese Classical repertoire; and there is no interest in modern music.  Organists enjoy greater latitude for voluntaries.  The Choirs maintain a massive repertoire throughout the year with very little repetition of choral music.

Russell also described the Oratory Junior Choir and the Schola Cantorum of the London Oratory School (a Catholic state-funded school for boys aged 7–18 and girls aged 16–18), each under the direction of Charles Cole.  The Oratory Junior Choir is comprised of 30 boys and girls who rehearse twice weekly after school hours and sing for Tuesday evening Benediction and Sunday 10 a.m. Mass.  This ensemble also serves the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.  The Schola Cantorum is a very active choral ensemble for boys at the Oratory School, consisting of unchanged and changed voices.  Russell likened London Oratory School, in terms of its musical formation, to German Choir Schools found in Leipzig and Dresden.  In addition to Russell (Director of Music) and Cole (Assistant Director of Music), Ben Bloor serves as organist on the Oratory Music Staff, and Ivan Leung serves as Organ Scholar, while completing an Artist Diploma at the Royal College of Music.  Russell remarked that the musical setup of the Oratory at large exemplifies musical formation in apprentice-style training, which has been “a phenomenal engine for maintaining quality.”

In addition to his responsibilities at the Oratory, Russell also serves as Head of Choral Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music.

Following the visit to the Oratory, conference participants enjoyed dinner on their own.

Saturday, January 20

On Friday morning, conference participants were bussed to Winchester Cathedral for a guided tour and for a presentation by Joshua Stevens, Sub Organist of the Cathedral.  Stevens described in detail the history of the Cathedral’s pipe organ, built originally in 1851 by Henry “Father” Willis.  The organ was built for the Great Exhibition and then transferred to Winchester Cathedral.  Notable elements of the instrument included key assists analogous to the Barker levers introduced by Cavaillé-Coll, as well as rudimentary divisional combination actions—the first of their kind.  To this day, the pipe organ is central to the choral services of Winchester Cathedral, and the organ underwent a 2023 restoration completely by the Durham-based Harrison and Harrison Organbuilders.

Stevens also described the operations of the choral program of Winchester Cathedral, which offers opportunities for boys, girls, professional lay clerks, and adult volunteers.  The boy choristers, aged 8-13, all attend the Pilgrim’s School near the Cathedral.  Each chorister begins with a one-year probationary period before fully joining the Cathedral Choir.  The boys rehearse twice on Mondays and Thursdays, once on Tuesdays and Fridays, and they sing for one choral service on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and two services on Sundays.  They sing primarily with the lay clerks, in services and for recordings, and they have provided music for the Star Wars Game Soundtrack (earning the boys a Grammy-nomination) and for the Netflix series The Crown.

The girl choristers program was established in 1999 for girls aged 11-18.  The girls enjoy a lighter singing schedule and are recruited from various schools throughout the region.  They rehearse twice weekly, sing for one service on Sundays with the lay clerks, and join the boys and bar clerks for special events and holidays.  The Cathedral maintains paid positions for up to 12 lay clerks, open to mezzo sopranos in the alto section.

Winchester Cathedral also offers singing opportunities for adult volunteers, including the Cathedral Chamber Choir, the open-access (non-auditioned) Nave Choir.  The Cathedral also welcomes children from local primary schools into the Choral Engagement Program, which offers one concert program per term with approximately 8 rehearsals.  Stevens elaborated on the intentional use of the term “engagement” to highlight the Cathedral’s efforts to draw children and their families into the Church and music program, as opposed to “outreach” which could be perceived as a dilution of the musical standards.  He reported that the Choral Engagement Program welcomed 100 children in the first year, and 300 in its third year.  In addition, Stevens articulated that several students each year will join the chorister program through their involvement in the Choir Engagement Program, which facilitates recruitment of new choristers through internal Cathedral programming.

Stevens shared the online presence of the Cathedral and its music program through regular live streaming and video archives of services, and he played a recording of the Cathedral Choir singing Vaughan Williams’ O Clap Your Hands as part of the October 2023 installation of the current Bishop of Winchester.  Stevens’ presentation was remarkably thorough and witty, and he concluded with refreshingly wise context for the motivation for working in such a setting.  He described the work of music ministry as has having an essential vocational quality: “As we’re all drawn to the music that we love, and we’re all drawn to the activities that we do, my colleagues and I—and everyone involved—we’re drawn to this specific place…to beautify, to offer access to our community, and enhance their worship.  I know it sounds quite cheesy to say it, but that’s why, and I think it’s a great joy, and a passion of ours, a love, to be able to share what we do…”

The Winchester Cathedral Music Staff are the Reverend Canon Andrew Trenier, Precentor and Sacrist; Andrew Lumsden, Director of Music; Claudia Grinnell, Sub Organist; Joshua Stevens, Sub Organist; Chris Burton, Director of the open-access Choirs and Junior Choirs.

After the presentation, conference participants were bussed to Stonehenge for a visit to the famous pre-historic monument.  Conference participants enjoyed lunch at the cafeteria there and were bussed to Salisbury Cathedral.  There, conference participants enjoyed guided tours, followed by a brief talk by John Challenger, Assistant Director of Music.

Challenger offered an overview of the schedule of choral services, which includes daily Evensong, as well as Sunday Mattins and Eucharist.  The Cathedral maintains a back row of six lay vicars, with twenty boy choristers and twenty girl choristers.  The boys and girls are of the same age and all attend Salisbury Cathedral School.  The boys and girls choristers each share half of the weekly services.

The Cathedral Organ was built by Henry “Father” Willis and complete in 1877.  It has been largely unaltered, which is a source of pride for the Cathedral.  As 2027 will mark the 150th anniversary of the organ, the Cathedral is preparing a season of concerts in honor of this historic instrument.

Salisbury Cathedral is famous among medieval English Cathedral, particularly owing to the short time span of its construction, 1220-1258.  Although the tower and spire were completely somewhat later, the entire cathedral was largely constructed in one architectural (early English Gothic) style.  The cathedral is also home to one of the four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta.  Before departing from the Cathedral, conference participants were able to observe a rehearsal of the girls and lay clerks.

Following the visit to Salisbury Cathedral, conference participants were bussed back to London and enjoyed dinner on their own.

Sunday, January 21

On Sunday morning, conference participants attended Sunday Mass at Wesminster Cathedral, sung by the Cathedral Choir.  Repertoire included Gregorian Introit, Alleluia, and Communion Antiphons for Domenica III per annum; Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus (coupled with Gregorian Benedictus VIII), and Agnus Dei from Missa brevis by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina; Credo III; and A New Song by James MacMillan.  Organ postlude was the Præludium in F-sharp minor, BuxWV 146, by Dieterich Buxtehude.

After Mass, conference participants enjoyed lunch on their own, before proceeding to St. Paul’s Cathedral for Evensong and a brief presentation by Andrew Carwood, Director of Music.  Evensong included a special ecumenical ceremony, which was the Installation of Dr. Christian Stäblein, Bishop of the Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia, as an Honorary Ecumenical Canon.  Choral repertoire for Evensong included Preces and Responses, and Second Service by Kenneth Leighton; Psalm 33 sung to Anglican chant by James Turle; and Tu es vas electionis by Peter Philips.  The closing organ voluntary was Praeludium in E by Vincent Lübeck.

Following Evensong, conference participants gathered in the Cathedral undercroft for a presentation by Andrew Carwood, Director of Music.  Carwood described the long history of music at Saint Paul’s Cathedral, which dates back to the 9th C.; and there is evidence of proper choral music (i.e. polyphony) from the 12th C.  The music program is built upon a tradition of secular canons, as opposed to a monastic foundation, and the pre-Reformation term of “vicars choral” is the title in use to the present day.  Carwood described some of the various Catholic and Protestant services that took place in alternation at Saint Paul’s Cathedral, which shed light on the “seismic” and “convulsive” nature of the religious and political climate at the time of the English Reformation.  From the early 16th C to the 17th C, the boy choristers of Saint Paul’s (known as “Paul’s Boys”) were primarily renowned as actors.  Between then and now, Carwood described that it was John Stainer (Director of Music at Saint Paul’s Cathedral from 1872-1888) who is credited for setting the tone and example for English Cathedral Choral music, especially regarding vesture, ceremony, and decorum.

Carwood then described the current choral program at the Cathedral.  Boys, age 8-13, all board in the Cathedral School.  Probationers spend one year, during which they experience a lightened singing schedule and receive vocal training from a dedicated teacher, before they are fully initiated into the Choir.  Full choristers rehearse in the morning before their normal school day, as well as after school in preparation for 5 p.m. Evensong.  The choristers also receive instruction in piano as well as an orchestral instrument.  Carwood remarked that the chorister experience is truly a program of immersion, one of the few remaining old-fashioned apprentice schemes.

The 12 vicars choral are all professional singers and teachers, many of whom a members of other famous English performing and touring choirs.  As they are permitted to be absent from 40% of the Choir’s calls, the back row of the Choir changes from day to day.  For a weekday Evensong rehearsal, the boys begin at 4:10 p.m., the adults arrive at 4:30 p.m., and they rehearse together for roughly 23 minutes.

Carwood described the Cathedral’s plans for musical expansion and provision of singing opportunities for girls, from vesting, to boarding, to service singing.  The goal is to offer equal opportunities for 30 boys and 30 girls, of the same age range (8-13 years old).  In order to provide equal opportunities for service singing, the Cathedral will expand their choral services to 14 per week.  Such an expansion will necessarily entail an expansion of the staff, which will increase from 3 organists to 4 or 5.  The position of organ scholar will be retained, reserved for a post-graduate musician.

Regarding the state of recruitment, Carwood offered his sobering observations of present trends in primary school music education.  He described that—in the state education system—there is virtually no singing in schools.  Therefore, children generally are not coached properly to develop their singing voice; through the influence of show tunes and evangelical mission music, they learn to sing in an improperly low register.  Carwood also described the number of students who struggle with listening and aural learning, that their primary medium for learning is visual.  Recruitment of families is likewise challenging in an increasingly secular society, owing particularly to negative perceptions of the Church, the safe guarding of children in the Church, and general religious disinterest.  With all this in mind, Carwood articulated the motivation of his plans to increase the size of his program: “When you’re in trouble, you have to expand.”  He noted that children rise to high expectations.

Andrew Carwood has been Director of Music at Saint Paul’s Cathedral since 2007.  He is also Founding Director of The Cardinall’s Musick, the U.K.-based early music ensemble.

After the presentation, conference participants returned to the hotel to prepare to the closing banquet.

The closing banquet of the conference was held at Browns Butlers Wharf Restaurant on the South Bank of the River Thames.  Well-deserved appreciation was extended to the CRCCM Steering Committee, the staff of Peter’s Way Tours, and the Conference Tour Guides, Alexander Robinson and Margaret Machin, for organizing and executing a successful and enjoyable gathering.

Brian F. Gurley is Director of Music and Organist at Saint Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


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